I listened to an episode of Writing Excuses, a podcast for writers, while driving across town the other day. Dan Wells, one of the regular contributors, mentioned a technique that I thought strange and extraordinary. He used a fugue to organize the plot of a novel.
For those not familiar with the term, a fugue is a musical composition where a short theme or “the subject” is introduced in the beginning and then repeated in different voices and different pitches. There are three different sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable organ fugues of all time.
Dan assigned characters and plot themes to the different elements of the piece. Starting from the beginning he then outlined exactly what would happen in each scene of the book using the music to dictate which themes to use with which characters. The music’s intensity, whether it was calm or dramatic, determined scene’s intensity.
In the end he said it was an interesting exercise but the book that resulted was not very good. It turns out that because fugues are fairly repetitive the book ended up being, well, overly repetitive. Had he not tried he would have never known if it would have worked or not. It might have produced a fresh, stunning new way of constructing a plot.
This kind of thinking opens up worlds of possibilities in finding new ways to build stories. One might draw inspiration in architecture, biology, or visual art. Chances are that the right inspiration and the right story when paired together might produce something truly out of this world.